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Are You Aware of the Changes to the AFO General Discharge Permit?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Man getting out of a tractor (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

All large and medium Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) in Maryland must be covered under the State’s Department of the Environment’s General Discharge Permit. The permit is both a state discharge permit and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit required by the Clean Water Act for a point source discharging pollutants into waters of the United States. Large and medium AFOs are considered a point source of pollution. Check out this past post for more detail on who is covered by the General Discharge Permit and this post on AFOs and permitting. The General Discharge Permit was recently modified and today’s post explains why and how.

The General Discharge Permit at issue became effective on December 1, 2014. Soon after, two environmental advocacy groups, Food & Water Watch and the Assateague Coastal Trust (the petitioners), filed a Petition for Judicial Review challenging the legality of the General Discharge Permit. The petitioners alleged that the General Discharge Permit was legally insufficient because it required monitoring of dry manure impoundments every three months instead of weekly, as required by federal law (40 CFR Part 412.37a(1)(iii). The petitioners also argued that the permit should be invalidated because it did not include required effluent monitoring.

Federal effluent limitation guidelines require zero discharge from production areas of poultry Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) Watershed Implementation Plan also requires zero discharge from CAFOs. Interestingly, according to the TMDL, the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the General Discharge Permit are the effluent limits of the permit. BMPs for handling waste from a CAFO include: streamside grass buffers; mortality composting; heavy use livestock area pads on farms determined to have severe erosion and existing or the potential for water quality issues; 100-foot or 35-foot required setbacks for CAFO manure application; manure transport; poultry litter storage structures; livestock waste storage structures; and barnyard runoff control systems. An operator covered by the permit must properly implement waste handling BMPs to be in compliance.

Thankfully last summer, the petitioners and the MDE were able to agree on how to amend the General Discharge Permit (the claims related to Part V(A) “Monitoring” of the permit are stayed). The General Discharge Permit now provides that dry animal waste structures be inspected weekly and records of the inspections maintained (Part IV.A.6(b)(4)(ii) and Part IV.A.7(a)(5)(ii) (pages 13-14). There were also some other minor changes to the General Discharge Permit unrelated to the lawsuit.

All operators permitted under the General Discharge Permit before the modification are now subject to the modified permit terms. The MDE notified operators of the changes. If you need more information about the General Discharge Permit or other matters related to AFOs, contact Gary F. Kelman, Chief, Animal Feeding Operation Division-MDE, 410-537-3314.

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